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Creating Collaborative Curriculum

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Originally appears in the Winter 2015 issue

SCIENTISTS SATISFY their thirst for knowledge by asking questions, developing creative ways to answer  their questions, and interpreting the patterns they see, expanding our understanding of the natural world as a result. Instead of giving passive lectures and emphasizing rote learning, we should be tapping into our science students’ innate sense of wonder and allowing them to discover and learn about the world the way scientists do. What better way to create these types of educational experiences than through scientist/educator collaborations? This article describes a collaboration between teachers and scientists, the goals of which were to create classroom-ready materials that get students thinking about and analyzing ozone pollution data like scientists would, and advises educators how to get involved in science outreach of their own.

Why we need more outreach

While the number of students pursuing higher education across the globe is rising, the proportion of students pursuing degrees in science and technology fields is declining.1 Data from the US Department of Education indicates that only 16 per cent of American high school students are proficient in mathematics and interested in a science and technology related career. The world must train more people in science and technology to address global environmental challenges and keep our economies strong.

Decisions about pursuing STEM careers are often negatively influenced by perceptions of science and technology careers and lifestyles. Many students in developed countries believe incomes in science and technology are low relative to the difficulty of required schooling and amount of work expected from professionals in these fields. Furthermore, students often have inaccurate understandings of science-related professions and many are unaware of the range of career opportunities available to science and technology graduates.

As most scientists are passionate about their work, outreach efforts by professional scientists and engineers can help to combat negative trends and misconceptions about science and technology. Outreach collaborations offer scientists and engineers the opportunity to share their infectious enthusiasm for discovery, as well as their expertise, with
teachers and/or students. Science outreach projects can dispel stereotypes about science, scientists, and their careers, while sparking student interest in science.

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Alison Varty has spent years teaching students ranging from primary school to undergraduate students in formal and informal settings and is currently a faculty member in Biology and Environmental Science at College of the Siskiyous in northern California. Steve Bertman is Professor of Chemistry at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He serves the UMBS as the Associate Director of PROPHET.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. AGS-1120258. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.